Gligora Dairy, Island of Pag cheese, and the rise of Paški Sir

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Paški Sir, or Pag cheese as it is affectionately known, is fast becoming a big hit in the US and Europe

The Gligora Family on the little rocky Island of Pag in Croatia have been making the islands highly regarded cheese for hundreds of years with artisan skills passed from generation to generation. Though it wasn’t until 1995 when Gligora Dairy was formed and the family were able to take this stunning cheese from the local market place on a metoric rise to international recognition, with some of the biggest names in the industry (quite literally in some cases) purring in appreciation.

The recently retired head chef of the Harvard Club New York and the internationally appreciated cheese monger Patricia Michelson of La Fromagerie, London, are just two of the many names who’ve recently waxed lyrical about Gligora’s offering.

Maybe it was fate that caused Mr Ivan Gligora to give up his his dream of becoming a teacher when his family couldn’t afford his education fees, instead he turned to a scholarship in dairy technology and became the first qualified dairy technician from the islands of Croatia, a move that would have far-reaching effects for Paški Sir.

After 15 years in the industry his hard work and insights were rewarded with promotion as his reputation grew.  Ivan then left the state-run Paška Sirana factory on Pag to set up his own family production that would eventually outstrip his former employer regards to the quality of Paški Sir.

Frustrated in the lack of opportunity offered to him for creativity and development, Ivan risked everything by selling some family property to secure bank credit to set up ‘sirena mala sirana’ (the little dairy) which was later to become Gligora Dairy. So confident was one financer in Ivan’s skill that he agreed to be paid back in cheese once his dairy was up and running.  From humble beginnings in the family garage production slowly grew under Ivan’s expert guidance and hard work, and his cheese was quickly recognised for its quality.

Several domestic titles were followed by awards in neighboring Serbia and Slovenia, then Ivan set our to conquer Europe with Gold medals in Italy against some of the finest cheeses in the world.

With a growing share in the domestic market where his cheese was recognised for its authenticity by the Croatian Chamber of commerce, Gligora Dairy needed expansion to meet its ambition of producing one of the best cheeses in the world.

Following 2 successive Superior Taste Awards from the International Taste and Quality Institute in Brussles, Ivan met the application and tender for a European grant to build a completely new and modern dairy right in the middle of the islands agricultural heartland and family home, in the picturesque village of Kolan.

Opened by the Croatian Prim Minister Jadraka Kosor, the crown of Ivan’s career was finally in place and production at the new dairy started in earnest in January 2010. With Ivan’s son Šime Gligora now at the helm, it’s with testament to the family’s skill that they were able to produce a cheese after just 3 months in operation that would later go on to astonish the judges and organisers alike at the World Cheese Awards later in the year.

Superior Taste award number 3 came in April 2010, with a 4th in 2011 and Šime took Paški Sir for it’s UK debut at the Nantwich International Show in August 2010 where it picked up a Silver Medal.

In November, back in the UK at the World Cheese Awards, Gligora’s Paški Sir was entered into 3 categories; Small producers, ewe’s milk cheese and continental. Finishing top in each category with 3 Super Gold Medals there was no doubting the quality of this cheese as it made it’s way though some 2,300 cheeses into the final top ten best cheeses of the world.

 In front of a live panel of the most internationally respected dairy industry contributors, Paški Sir was finally introduced to the worlds media for the first time by a South African judge who championed Paški Sir by saying “look at this cheese, this is a true artisan cheese and the maker of which deserves to be recognised. The Supreme Championship of the World Cheese Awards would be good enough for this cheese”.

 Sadly it wasn’t to be in 2010 but Gligora’s Paški Sir was awarded with the ‘Barbers’ Best New Cheese Trophy and orders from some of the UKs most prestigious cheese shops followed. Notorious for sticking with the tried and tested French, Dutch and Italian cheeses, the UK wasn’t quite ready for Paški Sir and after all, who had heard of a world beating cheese from Croatia?

With passionate championing by John Axton at the respected Cheese Hamlet in Manchester sales quickly increased and orders more than quadrupled in less than 12 months. Gligora’s Paški Sir now available by wholesale in the UK through of London’s famous Borough Market. 

In 2011 Gligora released their cheese on the US market for the first time through specialist importers Grand Prix Trading of New York. With over 30 years experience in importing products from the former Yugoslavian countries they seemed to be the perfect fit for Gligora’s needs. Like in the UK initial sales were moderate, but slowly and surely Gligora’s Paški Sir is becoming more widely available in the US and very highly appreciated.

Ivan (right) explains that production is centered on quality not quantity, and with his cheese being produced exclusively from the milk of the islands autochthonous breed of sheep it means availability will always be limited. Šime says with the new dairy equipment we can now focus on new and innovative ways in which to allow the terroir of the Island of Pag to  express itself fully through our Paški Sir. Focusing on the quality of our raw ingredients and attention to detail with our specially trained affinures, we use the same age-old artisan methods of production carefully infused with modern technology to allow the terroir to fully imbues itself into the taste of our Paški Sir.

As Patricia Michelson of La Fromagerie, London so eloquently put it in a recent article about Gligora in the Monocle magazine ( “You’re tasting the purity of the milk, and the food the animals eat. You’re tasting a complete picture of the region which is exactly what we’re after”.

So does Gligora’s paški Sir age like a fine wine?

The Terror of Pag

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6 responses to “Gligora Dairy, Island of Pag cheese, and the rise of Paški Sir

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